CHAPTER XX. BOARDING HOUSES.

As we have said elsewhere, it has been remarked that New York is a vast boarding-house. If any one doubts this, he has only to turn to the columns of the Herald, and see the long rows of advertisements on the subject. The better class houses of the city are equal to any in the world, but there are scores here within the pale of respectability which are a trial to the fortitude and philosophy of any man. A really desirable house is a rarity here, as elsewhere, and very hard to find. He who is so lucky as to be domesticated in one of these is wise if he remains there.

                     FINDING A BOARDING HOUSE.

Some years ago there appeared a work on the subject of boarding houses, from which we extract the following description of the experience of a person looking for board in New York.

He either inserts in the Herald, Tribune, or Times, an advertisement specifying his particular requirements, or consults those addressed to humanity in general through the medium of their columns - perhaps adopts both measures. In the former case, the next morning puts him in possession of a vast amount of correspondence, from the daintily-penned and delicately-enveloped billets of up-towndom to the ill-spelled, pencil-scrawled, uncovered notes of Greenwich and Hudson streets. It matters not that he has indicated any definite locality; sanguine householders in remote Brooklyn districts clutch at him, Hoboken residents yearn toward him, and the writer of a stray Williamsburg epistle is 'confident that an arrangement can be made,' if he will favor her with a visit. After laying aside as ineligible as many letters as there are Smiths in a New York Directory, he devotes a morning to the purposes of inspection and selection.

He becomes acquainted with strange localities and bell-handles. He scrutinizes informatory scraps of paper wafered up beside doorways. He endures tedious waiting at thresholds - it being a curious fact in connection with boarding-houses that a single application for admission through the usual medium never procures it. And according as his quest be high or low, so will his experience vary.

If the former, he may expect to be ushered into spacious and luxuriously-furnished parlors, where, seated in comfortably-padded rocking-chairs, and contemplating marble tables, on which gorgeously-bound volumes are artistically arranged; thousand-dollar piano-fortes, and mirrors capable of abashing a modest man to utter speechlessness, he will tarry the advent of stately dames, whose dresses rustle as with conscious opulence. He will precede them - they being scrupulous as to exposure of ankles - up broad staircases to handsome apartments, and listen with bland satisfaction to the enumeration of 'all the modern improvements' which their mansions comprise; nor, perhaps, be startled at the 'figure' for which they may be enjoyed. If 'money be no object,' he will not have to seek far, or fare badly.

"But the researches of him whose aspirations are circumscribed by a shallow purse will produce different results. By Irish girls, with unkempt hair and uncleanly physiognomy, he will be inducted into sitting-rooms where the Venetian blinds are kept scrupulously closed, for the double purpose of excluding flies and preventing a too close scrutiny of the upholstery. He will have interviews with landladies of various appearances, ages and characteristics - landladies dubious and dingy, landladies severe and suspicious, (inflexible as to 'references or payments in advance,') landladies calm and confiding, landladies chatty and conciliatory, - the majority being widows. He will survey innumerable rooms - generally under that peculiarly cheerful aspect attendant on unmade beds and unemptied washing-basins - and, if of sanatory principles, examine the construction of windows in order to ascertain whether they be asphyxiative or moveable. He will find occasion to admire how apartments may be indifferently ventilated by half-windows, and attics constructed so that standing erect within them is only practicable in one spot. How a three-feet-by-sixteen inches strip of threadbare carpet, a twelve-and-a-half-cents-Chatham-square mirror, and a disjointed chair may, in the lively imagination of boardinghouse proprietresses, be considered furniture. How double, triple, and even quintuple beds in single rooms, and closets into which he only succeeds in effecting entrance by dint of violent compression between the 'cot' and wall, are esteemed highly eligible accommodations for single gentlemen. How partitions (of a purely nominal character) may in no wise prevent the occupants of adjoining rooms from holding conversation one with the other, becoming cognizant of neighboring snores, or turnings in bed. He will observe that lavatory arrangements are mostly of an imperfect description, generally comprising a frail and rickety washing-stand - which has apparently existed for ages in a Niagara of soapsuds, a ewer and basin of limited capacity, and a cottony, weblike towel, about as well calculated for its purpose as a similar sized sheet of blotting paper would be. In rooms which have not recently submitted to the purifying brush of the white-washer, he will notice the mortal remains of mosquitoes (not to mention more odoriferous and objectionable insects) ornamenting ceilings and walls, where they have encountered Destiny in the shape of slippers or boot- soles of former occupants."

                     EXPERIENCE.

All boarding houses begin to fill up for the winter about the first of October. Few of the proprietors have any trouble in filling their establishments, as there is generally a rush of strangers to the City during the winter season. A few of the best houses retain their guests for years, but the occupants of the majority change their quarters every fall. At the first, the table is bountifully supplied with the best the markets afford, the attendance is excellent, and the proprietor is as obliging and pleasant as one could wish. This continues for a month or two until good board becomes scarcer in the City. Then the attendance becomes inferior. The proprietor cannot afford to keep so many servants, and the very best in the house are discharged. The fare becomes poor and scanty, and the proprietor, sure that few will care to change quarters so late in the season, answers all complaints with a gruff intimation that you can leave the house if you are dissatisfied. You feel like taking his advice, and would do so but for the knowledge that you will fare as bad or worse if you do so. You make up your mind to submit, and endure all the discomforts of the house until May with her smiling face calls you into the country, or offers you an opportunity to better your condition.

All houses are more liberal to their boarders in the summer than in the winter - the City is then comparatively deserted, and most of the "highly respectable establishments" are very much in want of guests. They then offer unusual inducements, and are forced by their necessities to atone in some measure for their winter barbarity.

                     BOARDING-HOUSE CHARACTERS.

Persons seeking board in New York frequently complain of being annoyed by a demand on the part of the landlady (for the proprietor, is, in most cases, a woman) for reference. This may not be pleasant to the over-sensitive, but it is absolutely necessary. Nearly every boarder is at first a stranger to his landlady. She does not know whether a man is a gentleman or a thief, or whether a female is a saint or a fallen woman. She naturally desires to keep her house free from improper characters, and to secure as guests those who will pay her promptly and regularly.

In spite of these efforts, however, it may be safely affirmed that there are not ten boarding houses in the city, which do not contain improper characters. Observers have been struck with the number of handsome young widows who frequent these places. Sometimes these women claim to be the wives of men absent in the distant Territories, or in Europe, and pretend to receive letters and remittances from them. In nine cases out of ten such women make their living in a manner they do not care to have known. They conduct themselves with the utmost propriety towards all persons living in the house with them, and are considered ladies by even acute judges. These same judges are sometimes a little startled to meet these virtuous dames in places where ladies are never seen. Of course the secret is kept, and the woman continues to deceive her other companions.

Landladies are the object of the especial attentions of swindlers, and suffer very much from them. All sorts of expedients are resorted to by the unprincipled to live without paying their board.

                     A FASHIONABLE SWINDLER.

Last winter a "gentleman" called upon a lady who presides over a fashionable boarding-house in Lexington avenue, and introducing himself as William Aspinwall, of the "Howland and Aspinwall branch," obtained a room on the second floor. This apartment he occupied for three weeks, constantly "promising" the lady of the house money, but as constantly "being disappointed in his remittances from his friends, but if the lady would wait but a day or two longer he would apply, if his remittances did not arrive, in person to Mr. Aspinwall and obtain a thousand or two." At last, one day this pretended scion of the Aspinwalls vanished, leaving his trunk behind him, which, upon examination, was found to be very full and very heavy indeed, but with bricks and rags only. All Mr. Aspinwall's wardrobe being carried on his precious person. A letter was found, however, which proved that his real name was Charles H, or at least that he had been known at times by that title.

                     A SHARP GAME.

A man calling himself Doctor Thorne is frequently seen in the city boarding houses. He is a married man, which fact, of course, makes him all the more dangerous to his victims, as he contrives to support at their expense not only himself, but his wife and children. The Doctor is a burly, heavily-bearded gentleman (at least in manner); his wife, a more accomplished Jeremy Diddler than himself, is one of the softest-spoken and most amiably-seeming of her sex. The Doctor plays his little game as follows: He obtains first-class rooms at first class prices, pledging as security for the payment of these prices a large assortment of really valuable baggage in the line of clothes and linens. Having taken possession of his rooms he is, after a week's time, suddenly called by business to Chicago or St. Louis; he will settle the little balance due on his return. He accordingly departs, but not to St. Louis, or Chicago - oh, dear, no. He understands a trick worth two of that. He simply hires a little room in a retired street at the lowest possible rent, and there resides. His wife and children - two boys, one aged ten, the other twelve, and both very "smart" - take him his meals daily, in a basket, in their pocket, or by other means, as the case may be, the meals being furnished unwittingly by the victimized landlady with whom his family are sojourning. But more than meals are taken from the boarding house. The baggage is also taken away, piece after piece, secretly, and conveyed to the little room where the "head and father" of this interesting family resides. So one day, after an unaccountable absence of Dr. Thorne from home, and after the receipt by his wife of daily letters from her husband, but no money, though money is always expected by the next mail, the whole family disappear, one by one, and never return. The landlady congratulates herself upon the fact that she retains at least the baggage - but alas, upon an examination she finds that nothing is left her in lieu of the month's board for three people and a week's board for the fourth, saving some empty trunks. For a few days subsequent to this denouement, Dr. Thorne and family live in retirement. Then they boldly emerge and repeat the same series of operations in other localities of this much beswindled city.

                     A TRIO OF FEMALE SWINDLERS.

About twelve-month since, an old widow lady opened a boarding-house on University place, investing in the establishment and furniture all her capital. She experienced no difficulty in obtaining boarders, and among her guests she numbered a small-sized, full-faced, but keen-eyed woman by the name of Agnes S. who rented a large room on the second floor. This Mrs. S. exhausted all her wiles to gain the friendship of the landlady, and succeeded in so doing. In a short time, she became the inseparable companion and intimate of the old widow, who never took any step of importance without first consulting her dear Agnes. The "dear Agnes" improved her intimacy and played her cards so well, that although she never paid her board, she was never requested to do so, and thus enjoyed the unenviable advantage of being enabled to live rent free. Having accomplished her first object, she now undertook to achieve her second. One day she sought the widow, and in a fit of gushingly-tender confidence revealed to her sympathizing friend her heart history; she told the widow that although passing for a maiden, she was in reality a married woman - but that her husband had been obliged to conceal himself from the gaze of the public owing to some 'unfortunate' business transactions in which he had been involved, solely for the sake of his brother out West.

Would she (the widow) not receive that husband, for her sake into the house? Would she not consent to harbor the poor unfortunate partner of her bosom beneath her roof until the matter had blown over? The doting widow agreed to this proposal, and thus Agnes S. and her 'husband' (who was in reality no more her husband than any man who reads this) were united, and lived for several weeks in luxury at the widow's expense; although great scandal arose among her boarders concerning the matter, and several of her 'best paying lodgers' left in consequence of these 'developments.' At last the widow was taken sick, and then 'having cast her bread upon the waters, she found it after many days,' and found it 'toasted.' From the hour of her taking to her bed, 'Agnes S. and husband' ruled the house. The worthy pair run the establishment, hired and discharged the servants, acted as steward and stewardess, and not only so, but absolutely made out the weekly bills and collected them; and not only collected them, but put the money into their own pockets.

"Last Thursday week the matter culminated by the sudden departure of Agnes S. and husband from the house in University place to unknown localities. Their 'little game' was effectually 'played out,' and the landlady at last recovered her health and common sense. But the adventurous birds had feathered their nests, and have only subsided for a while, to resume, in all probability, their 'genteel swindles' in some other city, or perhaps only in another portion of this very metropolis."

"The second of these worthies we shall call Mrs. Adelle Garnier. She is a stout creature, but endowed with a large share of good looks and dignity of manner. She has for years past resided in fashionable hotels, and has contrived to live on her 'face' in more senses than one. She is specially noticeable for three facts which have been abundantly exemplified in her career. First, she is a remarkably well educated woman, an accomplished linguist, speaking fluently, French, German and Italian, a skilled performer on the piano, and thoroughly versed in the literature of the day. Second, she has always exhibited a dislike, amounting almost to horror, of matrimony; and although she has, during her eventful history, received several advantageous offers of marriage, has declined them all, objecting decidedly to having her personal movements restrained in any degree by the will of any being on earth, not even a husband. Third, and last, and most remarkable of all, spite of her education and talent, spite of her matrimonial chances, she has steadily persisted in a course of life which has subjected her constantly to a long series of indignities, apparently preferring a wild, careless, lawless and scandalous Bohemianism to the sober routine and conventional demands of a modern lady's ordinary existence. Her last 'adventure' occurred some few weeks since at a Broadway hotel, from which she was expelled at a very short notice by the proprietors in presence of a number of the guests. It is presumed that at present she is almost penniless, though no one can safely predicate at what place or in what guise she may appear hereafter. For an adventurer, like a cat, has nine lives."

"The third, Miss Alice Mauley, is a petite blonde of fascinating manners, with large blue eyes, and a luxuriant wealth of hair. Alice has been a 'pilgrim and a stranger' in the cities of Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore and St. Louis, since her sixteenth year, and has 'enjoyed' the privilege of a large circle of acquaintance - the police of these cities included. Her mode of life verges on the 'sentimental,' and her peculiar forte is entrapping the affections of 'young bloods.' She cares not for 'love,' so-called, and is, in herself, chaste and irreproachable in morale; but she devotes her energies to procuring all the money, jewelry, diamonds and presents she can obtain from her 'enamored ones' prior to their 'proposals for her hand.' She, then, 'astonished at their mistaken presumption,' leaves them to regret their folly, but never by any chance returns their presents. She recently and seriously 'compromised' the prospects of the only son and heir of a wealthy merchant of the metropolis, from whom she obtained some ten thousand dollars worth of 'tokens' and 'souvenirs.' But, owing to the exertions and worldly acumen of the young fool's papa, she has been obliged to leave New York, and has within the last few days been heard of from Cincinnati."